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AUTOCRACY AND WAR: 

BY JOSEPH CONBAD. 



"Sine ira et studio." 

Fbom the firing of the first shot on the banks of the Sha-ho, 
the fate of the great battle of this war hung in the balance for 
more than a fortnight. The famous three-day battles, for which 
history has reserved the recognition of special pages, sink into 
insignificance before the struggles in Manchuria engaging half 
a million of men on fronts of sixty miles, struggles lasting for 
weeks, flaming up fiercely and dying away from sheer exhaustion, 
to flame up again in a desperate persistence, and end — as we, have 
seen them end more than once — not from one side or the other 
obtaining a decisive advantage, but through the mortal weariness 
of the combatants. 

We have seen these things, though we have seen them only in 
the cold, silent, colorless print of books and newspapers. In 
stigmatizing the printed word as cold, silent and colorless, I have 
no intention of putting a slight upon the fidelity and the talents of 
men who have provided us with words to read about the battles 
in Manchuria. I only wished to suggest that, from the nature 
of things, the war in the Par East has been made known to us, 
so far, in a pale and gray reflection of its terrible and monotonous 
phases of pain, death, sickness — a reflection seen in the per- 
spective of thousands of miles, in the dim atmosphere of official 
reticence, through the veil of inadequate words. Inadequate, I 
say, because what had to be reproduced is beyond the common 
experience of war; and imagination, luckily for our peace of mind, 
has remained a slumbering faculty, notwithstanding the din of 
humanitarian talk and the real progress of humanitarian ideas. 
Direct vision of the fact, or the stimulus of a great art, can alone 
make it turn and open its eyes heavy with blessed sleep ; and even 
voc. clxxxi. — no. 584. 3 



34 TEE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW. 

there, as against the testimony of the senses and the stirring up 
of emotion, that saving callousness which reconciles us to the 
conditions of our existence will assert itself under the guise of 
assent to fatal necessity or in the enthusiasm of a purely aesthetic 
admiration of the rendering. In this age of knowledge, our sym- 
pathetic imagination, to which alone we can look for the ultimate 
triumph of Concord and Justice, remains strangely impervious 
to information, however correctly and even picturesquely con- 
veyed. As to the austere eloquence of a serried array of figures, 
it has all the futility of precision without force. It is the ex- 
ploded superstition of enthusiastic statisticians. An overworked 
horse falling before our windows, a man writhing under a cart- 
wheel in the street, awaken more genuine emotion, more horror, 
pity and indignation than the stream of reports, appalling in their 
monotony, of tens of thousands of decaying bodies tainting the 
air of the Manchurian plains, of other tens of thousands of 
maimed bodies groaning in ditches, crawling on the frozen ground, 
filling the field hospitals; of the hundreds of thousands of sur- 
vivors no less pathetic, and even more tragic in being left alive 
by fate to the pitiable exhaustion of their pitiful toil. 

An early Victorian, or perhaps a pre-Victorian, sentimentalist, 
looking out of an up-stairs window I believe at a street — perhaps 
Fleet Street itself — full of people, is reported by an admiring 
friend to have wept for joy at seeing so much life. These Ar- 
cadian tears, this facile emotion worthy of the Golden Age, come 
to us from the past, with solemn approval, after the close of the 
Napoleonic wars and before the series of sanguinary surprises 
held in reserve by the nineteenth century for our hopeful grand- 
fathers. We may well envy them their optimism, of which this 
anecdote of an amiable wit and sentimentalist presents an ex- 
treme instance, but still a true instance and worthy of regard 
in the spontaneous testimony to that trust in the life of the 
Earth, triumphant at last in the felicity of her children. More- 
over, the psychology of individuals, even in the most extreme in- 
stances, reflects the general effect of the fears and hopes of the 
time. Wept for joy! I should think that now, after eighty 
years, the emotion would be of a sterner sort. One could not 
imagine anybody shedding tears of joy at the sight of much life 
in a street, unless perhaps he were an enthusiastic officer of a 
general staff or a popular politician, with his career yet to make. 



AUTOCRACY AND WAR. 35 

And hardly even that. In the ease of the first, tears would be un- 
professional, and a stern repression of all signs of joy at so much 
food for powder more in accord with the rules of prudence: the 
joy of the second would be checked before it found issue in weep- 
ing, by anxious doubts as to the soundness of the electors' views 
upon the question of the hour and the fear of missing the con- 
sensus of their votes. 

No! It seems that such a tender joy would be misplaced 
now as much as ever during the last hundred years, to go no 
further back. The end of the eighteenth century was, too, a 
time of optimism and of desperate mediocrity, in which the 
French Eevolution exploded like a bombshell. In its lurid 
blaze the insufficiency of Europe, the inferiority of minds, 
of military and administrative systems stood exposed with pitiless 
vividness. And there is but little courage in saying at this time 
of the day that the glorified French Revolution itself, except for 
its destructive force, was in essentials a mediocre phenomenon. 
The parentage of that great social and political upheaval was 
intellectual, the idea was elevated : but it is the bitter fate of the 
idea to lose its royal form and power, to lose its "virtue," the 
moment it descends from its solitary throne to work its will 
amongst the people. It is a king whose destiny is never to know 
the obedience of his subjects, except at the cost of degradation. 
The degradation of the ideas of freedom and justice at the root 
of the French Eevolution is made manifest in the person of its 
heir; a personality without law or faith, whom it has been the 
fashion to represent as an eagle, but who was in truth much 
more like a sort of vulture preying upon the body of a Europe 
which did indeed for some dozen of years resemble very much a 
corpse. The subtle and manifold influence for evil of the Na- 
poleonic episode, as a school of violence, as a sower of national 
hatreds, as the direct provoker of obscurantism and reaction, of 
political tyranny and injustice, cannot well be exaggerated. 

The nineteenth century began with wars which were the issue 
of a corrupted revolution. It may be said that the twentieth 
begins with a war which is like the explosive ferment of a moral 
grave, whence may yet emerge a new political organism to take 
the place of a gigantic and dreaded phantom. For a hundred 
years, the ghost of Russian might, overshadowing with its fantas- 
tic bulk the councils of central and western Europe, sat upon the 



36 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW. 

gravestone of Autocracy, cutting off from air, from light, from all 
knowledge of themselves and of the world, the buried millions of 
Russian people. Not the most determined cockney sentimentalist 
could have had the heart to weep for joy at the thought of its 
teeming numbers! And yet they were living — they are alive yet, 
since, through the mist of print, we have seen their blood freez- 
ing crimson upon the snow of the squares and streets of St. 
Petersburg; since their generations born in the grave are yet 
alive enough to fill the ditches and cover the fields of Man- 
churia with their torn limbs, their maimed trunks, to send up 
from the frozen ground of battle-fields a chorus of groans call- 
ing for vengeance from heaven, to kill and retreat or kill and 
advance without intermission or rest, for twenty hours, for fifty 
hours, for whole days, for whole weeks of fatigue, hunger, cold 
and murder, till their ghastly labor worthy of a place amongst 
the punishments of Dante's Inferno, passing through the stages 
of courage, of fury, of hopelessness, sinks into crazy despair. 

It seems that, in both armies, many men are driven beyond 
the bounds of sanity by the stress of moral and physical misery. 
Great numbers of soldiers and regimental officers go mad, as if by 
way of protest against the peculiar sanity of a state of war — most 
amongst the Russians, of course. The Japanese have in their 
favor the tonic effect of success; and the innate gentleness of 
their character stands them in good stead. But the Japanese 
Grand Army has yet another advantage in this nerve-destroying 
contest, which, for endless, arduous toil of killing, surpasses all 
the wars of history. It has a base for its operations ; a base of a 
nature beyond the concern of the many vain books written upon 
the so-called art of war. The Japanese army has for base a 
reasoned conviction; it has behind it the profound belief in the 
right of a logical necessity to be appeased at the cost of so much 
blood and treasure. And in that belief, whether well or ill found- 
ed, that army stands on the high ground of conspicuous assent, 
shouldering deliberately the burden of a long-tried faithfulness. 
The other people (since each people is an army nowadays), torn 
out from a miserable quietude resembling death itself, hurled 
across space, amazed, without starting-point of its own or 
knowledge of the aim, can feel nothing but the horror-struck 
consciousness of having mysteriously become the plaything of a 
black and merciless fate. 



AUTOCRACY AND WAR. 37 

The profound, the instructive, nature of this war is resumed 
by the memorable difference in the spiritual state of the two 
armies: the one forlorn and dazed, on being driven out from an 
abyss of mental darkness into the red light of a conflagration; 
the other, with the full knowledge of its past and its future, find- 
ing itself, as it were, at every step of the trying war before the 
eyes of an astonished world. The greatness of the lesson has 
been dwarfed for most of us by an often half -unconscious preju- 
dice of race-difference. The West, having managed to lodge its 
hasty foot on the neck of the East, is prone to forget that it is 
from the Bast that the wonders of patience and wisdom have 
come to a world of men who set the value of life in the power to 
act rather than in the faculty of meditation. It has been dwarfed 
by this; and it has been obscured by a cloud of considerations 
with whose shaping wisdom and meditation had little or nothing 
to do; by the weary platitudes on the military situation — which 
(apart from geographical conditions) is the same everlasting 
situation that has prevailed since the times of Hannibal and 
Scipio and further back yet, since the beginning of historical 
record, since prehistoric times for that matter; by the conven- 
tional expressions of horror at the tale of maiming and killing; 
by the rumors of peace, with guesses more or less plausible as to 
its conditions. All this is made legitimate by the consecrated 
custom of writers in such time as this — the time of a great war. 
More legitimate, in view of the situation created in Europe, are 
the speculations as to the course of events after the war — more 
legitimate, but hardly more wise, than the irresponsible talk of 
strategy that never changes and peace-terms that do not matter. 

And, above all, unaccountably persistent, unaccountably (un- 
less on the theory that there is no evidence-subduing awe like 
the fear inspired by the appearances of brute-force), the de- 
crepit, old, hundred-years-old, spectre of Russia's might still faces 
Europe from above the teeming grave of Eussian people. This 
dreaded and strange apparition, bristling with bayonets, armed 
with chains, hung over with holy images, that something not of 
this world, partaking of a ravenous Ghoul, of a blind Djinn 
grown up from a cloud, and of the Old Man of the Sea, still faces 
us with its old stupidity, with its strange mystical arrogance, 
stamping with its shadowy feet upon the gravestone of Autoc- 
racy already cracked beyond repair by the torpedoes of Togo's 



38 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW. 

fleet and the guns of Oyama, already heaving in the blood-soaked 
ground with the first stirrings of a resurrection. 

Never before had the Western world the opportunity to look so 
deep into the abyss of whitened bones and grinning skulls which 
separates an Autocracy posing as, and believing itself to be, the 
arbiter of Europe from the benighted, starved souls of its people. 
This is the real object-lesson of this war, its unforgettable in- 
formation. And this war's true mission, disentangled from the 
economic origins of that contest, from doors open or shut, from 
the fields of Korea for Eussian wheat or Japanese rice, from the 
ownership of ice-free ports and the command of the waters of the 
East — its true mission was to lay a ghost. It has accomplished 
that. Whether Kuropatkin was incapable or unlucky, whether or 
not Eussia, issuing next year, or the year after next, from behind 
a rampart of piled-up corpses, will win or lose a fresh campaign, 
are minor considerations. The task of Japan is done; the mission 
accomplished: the ghost of Eussian might is laid. Only Europe, 
accustomed so long to the presence of that portent, seems unable 
to comprehend it; as in the fables of our childhood, the twelve 
strokes of the hour have rung, the cock has crowed — the apparition 
has vanished, never to haunt again this world which had been 
used to gaze at it with vague dread and many misgivings. 

It was a fascination. And the hallucination still lasts, as 
inexplicable in its persistence as in its duration. It seems so 
unaccountable that the doubt arises as to the sincerity of all 
that talk as to what Eussia will or will not do; whether it will 
raise or not another army;' whether it will bury the Japanese in 
Manchuria under seventy millions of sacrificed peasants' caps (as 
her press boasted a little more than a year ago), or give up to them 
that jewel of her crown, Saghalin, together with some other 
things; whether, perchance, as an interesting alternative, it 
will make peace on the Amur in order to make war beyond 
the Oxus. 

All these speculations (with many others) have appeared 
gravely in print; and, if they have been gravely considered by 
only one reader out of each hundred, there must be something 
subtly noxious for the brain in the composition of newspaper ink; 
or else it is that the large page, the columns of words, the leaded 
headings, exalt the mind into a state of feverish credulity. The 
printed voice of the press makes a sort of still uproar, taking 



AVTOORaOY and war. 39 

from men both the power to reflect and the faculty of genuine 
feeling; leaving them only the artificially created need of having 
something exciting to talk about. 

The truth is that Eussia of our fathers, of our childhood, of our 
middle age — the testamentary Eussia of Peter the Great, who 
imagined that all the nations were delivered into the hand of 
Tsardom — can do nothing. It can do nothing, because it does not 
exist It has vanished forever at last, and as yet there is no new 
Eussia to take the place of that ill-omened creation, which, being 
a fantasy of a madman's brain, could be nothing but a figure out 
of a nightmare seated upon a monument of fear and oppression. 

The true greatness of a state does not spring from such a con- 
temptible source. It is a matter of logical growth, of faith and 
courage. Its inspiration springs from the constructive instinct 
of the people, governed by the strong hand of a collective con- 
science, and voiced in the wisdom and counsel of men who 
seldom reap the reward of gratitude. Many states have been 
powerful, but perhaps none has been really great — as yet. That 
the position of a state in reference to the moral methods of its 
development can be seen only historically, is true. Perhaps man- 
kind has not lived long enough for a comprehensive view of any 
particular case. Perhaps no one will ever live long enough; 
and perhaps this earth, shared out amongst our clashing ambi- 
tions by the anxious arrangements of statesmen, shall come to an 
end before we attain the felicity of greeting with unanimous ap- 
plause the perfect fruition of a great state. It is even possible 
that we are destined for another sort of bliss altogether, that 
sort which consists in being perpetually duped by false appear- 
ances. But, whatever political illusion the future may hold out 
to our fear or our admiration, there will be none, it is safe to say, 
which in the magnitude of antihumanitarian effect will equal 
that phantom now driven off the world by the thunder of 
thousands of guns; none that in its retreat will cling with an 
equally shameless sincerity to more unworthy supports — to the 
moral corruption and mental darkness of slavery, to the mere 
brute force of numbers. 

This very ignominy of infatuation should make clear to men's 
feelings and reason that the downfall of Eussia's might is un- 
avoidable. Spectral it lived and spectral it disappears, without 
leaving the memory of a single generous deed, of a single service 



40 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW. 

rendered — even involuntarily — to the polity of nations. Other 
despotisms there have been, but none whose origin was so grimly 
fantastic in its baseness, and the beginning of whose end was so 
gruesomely ignoble. 

Considered historically, Eussia's influence in Europe seems 
the most baseless thing in the world: a sort of convention in- 
vented by diplomatists for some dark purpose of their own, one 
would suspect, if the lack of grasp upon the realities of any 
given situation were not a characteristic in the management of 
international relations. A glance back at the last hundred years 
shows the invariable — one may say, the logical — powerlessness of 
Kussia. As a military power, it has never achieved by itself a 
single great thing. It has been, indeed, able to repel an ill-con- 
sidered invasion, but only by having recourse to the extreme 
methods of desperation. In its attacks upon its specially selected 
victim, this giant always struck as if with a withered right hand. 
All the Turkish campaigns prove this, from Potemkin's time to the 
last Eastern War in '78, entered upon with every advantage that 
a well-nursed prestige and a carefully fostered fanaticism can 
give. Even the half -armed were always too much for the might 
of Eussia, or, rather, of the Tsardom. It was victorious only as 
against the practically disarmed, as, in regard to its ideal of 
territorial expansion, a glance at a map will prove sufficiently. 
As an ally, Eussia has always been unprofitable, taking her share 
in the defeats rather than in the victories of her friends, but 
always pushing her own claim with the arrogance of an arbiter 
of military success. She has been unable to help, to any pur- 
pose, a single principle to hold its own, not even the principle of 
authority and legitimism which Nicholas the First declared so 
haughtily to rest under his especial protection, just as Nicholas 
the Second has tried to make the maintenance of peace on earth 
his own exclusive affair. And the first Nicholas was a good 
Eussian; he held the belief in the sacredness of his realm with 
such an intensity of faith that he could not survive the first shock 
of doubt. Eightly envisaged, the Crimean War was the end of 
what remained of absolutism and legitimism in Europe. It 
threw the way open for the liberation of Italy. The war in Man- 
churia makes an end of absolutism in Eussia, whoever has got to 
perish from the shock behind a rampart of dead ukases, mani- 
festoes and rescripts. In the space of a short fifty years, the 



AUTOCRACY AND WAR. 41 

self-appointed Apostle of Absolutism and the self-appointed 
Apostle of Peace, the Augustus and the Augustulus of the regime 
that was wont to speak contemptuously to European Foreign 
Offices in the beautiful French phrases of Prince GortchakofE, 
have fallen victims to this shadowy and dreadful familiar — to 
the phantom, part Ghoul, part Djinn, part Old Man of the Sea — 
with beak and claws and a double head looking greedily east and 
west on the confines of two continents. 

That nobody through all that time penetrated the true nature 
of the monster, it is impossible to believe. But, of the many 
who must have seen, all were either too modest, too cautious, per- 
haps too discreet, to speak. Yet not all. 

In the very early sixties, Prince Bismarck, then about to leave 
his post of Prussian Minister in St. Petersburg, called — so the 
story goes — upon another distinguished diplomatist. After some 
talk upon the general situation, the future Chancellor of the Ger- 
man Empire remarked that it was his practice to resume the 
impressions he carried out of every country where he had made a 
long stay in a short sentence which he caused to be engraved 
upon some trinket. " I am leaving this country now, and this is 
what I bring away from it," he continued, taking off his finger 
a new ring to show his colleague the inscription: "La Russie 
c'est le neant." 

Prince Bismarck had the truth of the matter, and was neither 
too modest nor too discreet to speak out. Yet he did not shout his 
knowledge from the housetops. He meant to have the phantom 
for his accomplice in an enterprise which has set the clock of 
peace for many a year. 

He had his way. The German Empire has been an accom- 
plished fact for more than the third part of a century — a sort of 
legacy left to the world by the phantom of Bussia's might. 

It is that last that is disappearing now — unexpectedly, as- 
tonishingly, as if by a touch of that wonderful magic for which 
the East has always been famous. The pretence of belief which 
existed will no longer answer anybody's purposes (now Prince 
Bismarck is dead) unless the purpose of the writers of sensa- 
tional paragraphs as to this " Neant " making an armed descent 
upon the plains of India. That sort of folly would be beneath 
contempt, if it did not distract attention from the real problem 
created for Europe by the War in the Far East. 



42 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW. 

For good or evil in the working out of her destiny, Eussia is 
bound to remain a " Neant " for many long years, in more even 
than the Bismarckian sense. The very fear of this spectre being 
gone, it behooves us to consider its legacy — the fact (no phantom 
that !) accomplished in Central Europe by its help and connivance. 

The German Empire may feel at bottom the loss of an old ac- 
complice always amenable to confidential whispers of a bargain; 
but, in the first instance, it cannot but rejoice at the fundamental 
weakening of a possible obstacle to its instincts of territorial ex- 
pansion. There is a removal of that latent feeling of restraint 
which the presence of a powerful neighbor, however implicated 
with you in a sense of common guilt, is bound to inspire. The 
common guilt of the two Empires is defined precisely by their 
frontier line running through the Polish provinces. Without 
indulging in excessive feelings of indignation at that country's 
partition, or going so far as to believe — with a late French 
statesman — in the " immanent justice of things," it is clear that a 
material situation based upon an essentially immoral transaction 
contains the germ of fatal differences in the temperament of the 
two partners in iniquity — whatever it is. Germany has been the 
evil counsellor of Eussia on all the questions of her Polish 
problem. Always urging the adoption of the most repressive 
measures with a perfectly logical duplicity, Prince Bismarck's 
empire has taken care to couple the neighborly offers of military 
assistance with its merciless advice. The thought of the Polish 
provinces accepting a frank reconciliation with a humanized 
Eussia, and bringing the weight of homogeneous loyalty to within 
a few score of miles of Berlin, has been always intensely distaste- 
ful to the arrogant Germanizing tendencies of the other partner 
in iniquity. And, besides, the way to the Baltic provinces leads 
over the Vistula and over the Niemen. 

And now, when there is a. possibility of serious internal disturb- 
ances destroying the sort of order Autocracy has kept in Eussia, 
the road over these rivers is seen wearing a more inviting aspect. 
At any moment, the pretext of armed intervention may be found 
in a revolutionary outbreak provoked by Socialists perhaps — but, 
at any rate, by the political immaturity of the enlightened 
classes and by the political barbarism of the Eussian people. 
The throes of Eussian resurrection will be long and painful. 
There must be some violent break-up of the lamentable tradi- 



AUTOCRACY AND WAR. 43 

tion — a shattering of the social, of the administrative, perhaps of 
the territorial, unity. 

Voices have been heard saying that the time for reforms in 
Russia is already past. This is the superficial view of a more 
profound truth, that for Russia there has never been such a time 
within the memory of mankind. It is impossible to initiate any 
sort of reform upon a phase of blind absolutism; and in Russia 
there has never been anything else to which the faintest tradition 
could, after ages of error, go back as to a parting of the ways. 

In Europe, the monarchical principle stands justified in its 
struggle with the growth of political liberty by the evolution of 
the idea of nationality as we see it concreted at the present time, 
by the inception of that wider solidarity grouping together around 
the standard of absolute power these larger agglomerations of 
mankind. This service of unification, creating close-knit com- 
munities possessing the ability, the will and the power to pursue 
a common ideal, has prepared the ground for the advent of a 
still larger understanding — for the solidarity of Europeanism 
which must be the next step towards the advent of Concord and 
Justice; an advent that has been and remains the only possible 
goal of our progress. 

The conceptions of legality, of larger patriotism, of national 
duties and aspirations have grown under the shadow of the un- 
limited monarchies of Europe, which were the creations of his- 
torical necessity. There were seeds of wisdom in their very 
violences and abuses. They had a past and a future: they were 
human. But under the shadow of Russian Autocracy nothing 
could grow. Russian Autocracy succeeded to nothing; it had no 
historical past and it could not have an historical future. It 
can only end. By no industry of investigation, by no fantastic 
stretch of benevolence can it be presented as a phase of develop- 
ment through which a society, a state, must pass on the way to 
the full consciousness of its destiny. It lies outside the stream 
of progress. This despotism has been utterly un-European. And 
neither has it been Asiatic in its nature. Oriental despotisms 
belong to the history of mankind ; they have left their trace on our 
minds and our imaginations by their splendor, by their culture, 
by their art, by the exploits of great conquerors. The record of 
their rise and decay has an intellectual value; they are in their 
origins and their course the manifestations of human needs, the 



44 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW. 

instruments of racial temperament, of conquering force, of faith 
and fanaticism. The Bussian Autocracy, as we see it now, is a 
thing apart. It is impossible to assign to it any rational origin in 
the vices, the misfortunes, the necessities or the passions of man- 
kind. This despotism has neither a European nor an Oriental 
parentage; more — it seems to have no root in either the institu- 
tions or the follies of this earth. What strikes one with a sort of 
awe is just this something inhuman in its character. It is a 
visitation, like a curse from heaven falling in the darkness of 
ages upon the human plains of forest and steppe, lying dumbly on 
the confines of two continents: a true desert harboring no spirit 
either of the Bast or of the West. 

This pitiful fate of a country, held by an evil spell, suffering 
from an awful visitation for which the responsibility cannot be 
traced to either her sins or her follies, has made Eussia as a nation 
so difficult for Europe to understand. Prom the very first ghastly 
dawn of her existence as a state, she had to breathe the atmos- 
phere of despotism, she found nothing but the arbitrary will 
of an obscure Autocrat at the beginning and end of her organiza- 
tion. Hence arises her impenetrability to whatever is true in 
Western thought. Western thought when it crosses her frontier 
falls under the spell of her Autocracy and becomes a noxious 
parody of itself. Hence the contradictions, the riddles, of her 
national life which are looked upon with such curiosity by the 
rest of the world. The curse had entered her very soul ; Autocracy 
and nothing else in the world has moulded her institutions, and 
with the poison of slavery drugged the national temperament 
into the apathy of a hopeless fatalism. It seems to have gone 
into the blood, tainting every mental activity in its source by a 
half-mystical, insensate, fascinating assertion of purity and 
holiness. The government of Holy Eussia, arrogating to itself 
the power to torment and slaughter the bodies of its subjects 
like a God-sent scourge, has been most cruel to those whom it 
allowed to live under the shadow of its dispensation. The worst 
crime against humanity of that system which we now behold 
crouching at bay behind vast heaps of mangled corpses, is the 
ruthless destruction of innumerable minds. The greatest horror 
of the world — madness — walked faithfully in its train. Some 
of the beet intellects of Eussia, after struggling in vain against 
the spell, ended by throwing themselves at the feet of that hope- 



AUTOCRACY AND WAR. 45 

less despotism as a giddy man leaps into an abyss. An attentive 
survey of Russia's literature, of her church, of her administration, 
and of the cross-currents of her thought, must end in the verdict 
that the Eussia of to-day has not the right to give her voice in a 
single question touching the future of humanity, because, from 
the very inception of her being, the brutal destruction of dignity, 
of truth, of rectitude, of all that is fruitful in human nature, has 
been made the imperative condition of her existence. The great 
governmental secret of that Imperium which Prince Bismarck 
had the insight and the courage to call " Le Neant " has been the 
extirpation of every intellectual hope. To pronounce in the face 
of such a past the word "evolution," which is precisely the ex- 
pression of the highest intellectual hope, is a gruesome pleas- 
antry. There can be no evolution out of a grave. Another word 
of less scientific sound has been very much pronounced of late in 
connection with Russia's future, a word of more vague import, 
a word of dread as much as of hope — " Revolution." 

In face of the events of the last four months, this word was 
sprung, instinctively as it were, on grave lips and has been heard 
with solemn forebodings. More or less consciously, Europe is pre- 
paring herself for a spectacle of much violence, and perhaps of 
an inspiring nobility of greatness. And there will be nothing of 
what she expects. She will see neither the anticipated character 
of the violence nor yet any signs of generous greatness. Her ex- 
pectations, more or less vaguely expressed, give the measure of her 
ignorance of that Neant which for so many years had remained 
hidden behind the phantom of invincible armies. 

Neant! In a way, yes! And perhaps Prince Bismarck has let 
himself be led away by the seduction of a good phrase into the use 
of an inexact term. The form of his judgment had to be pithy, 
striking, engraved within a ring. If he erred, then, no doubt, he 
erred deliberately. The saying was near enough the truth to 
serve : and perhaps he did not want to destroy utterly, by a more 
severe definition, the prestige of the sham that could not deceive 
his genius. Prince Bismarck has been really complimentary to 
the useful phantom of the autocratic might. There is an awe, in- 
spiring the idea of infinity, conveyed in the word " Neant " — and 
in Russia there is no idea. She is not a Neant: she is and has 
been simply the negation of everything worth living. She is not 
empty void, she is a yawning chasm open between East and West; 



46 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW. 

a bottomless abyss that has swallowed up every hope of mercy, 
every aspiration towards personal dignity, towards freedom, 
towards knowledge; every ennobling desire of the heart, every re- 
deeming whisper of conscience. Those that have peered into that 
abyss — where the dreams of Panslavism, of universal conquest, of 
hate and contempt for Western ideas, drifted impotently like 
shapes of mist — know well that it is bottomless ; that there is in it 
no ground for anything that could in the remotest degree serve 
even the lowest interest of mankind — and certainly no ground 
ready for a revolution. 

The sin of the old European monarchies was not the absolutism 
inherent in every form of government; it was the inability to 
alter the forms of their legality grown narrow and oppressive 
with the march of time. Every form of legality is bound to de- 
generate into oppression, and the legality in the forms of mon- 
archical institutions sooner perhaps than any other. It has not 
been the business of monarchies to be adaptive from within. 
With the mission of uniting and consolidating the particular 
ambitions and interests of feudalism in favor of a larger concep- 
tion of a state, of giving self -consciousness, force and nationality 
to the scattered energies of thought and action, they were fated 
to lag behind the march of ideas they had themselves set in 
motion in a direction they could neither understand nor ap- 
prove. Yet, with all that, the thrones still remain, and, what is 
more significant perhaps, many of the dynasties too have sur- 
vived. The revolutions of European states have never been in the 
nature of absolute protests " en masse " against the monarchical 
principle: they were the uprisings of the people against the 
oppressive forms of legality. But there never has been any 
legality in Russia ; she is a negation of that, as of everything else 
having its root in reason or conscience. The ground of every 
revolution has to be intellectually prepared. A revolution is a 
short cut in the rational development of national needs in re- 
sponse to the growth of world-wide ideals. It is conceivably pos- 
sible for a monarch of genius to put himself at the head of a 
Revolution without ceasing to be the King of his people. For 
the Russian Autocracy the only conceivable self -reform is suicide. 

The same relentless fate holds in its grip the all-powerful ruler 
and his helpless people. Wielders of a power purchased by an 
unspeakable baseness of subjection to the Khans of the Tartar 



AUTOCRACY AND WAR. 47 

Horde, the Princes of Eussia, who in their heart of hearts had 
come in time to regard themselves as superior to every monarch 
of Europe, have never risen to be the chiefs of a nation. Their 
authority has never been sanctioned by popular tradition, by 
ideas of loyalty, of devotion, of political necessity, of simple 
expediency, or even by the power of the sword. Its only sanction 
has been the fear of the lash. Thus debarred from attaining to 
the dignity of chiefs, they have remained mere owners of slaves, 
asserting with half -mystical vanity the divine origin of the evil 
thing which had made them and their people its own. In what- 
ever upheaval Autocratic Eussia is to find her end, it can never 
be a revolution fruitful of moral consequences to mankind. It 
cannot be anything else but a rising of slaves. It is a tragic cir- 
cumstance that the only thing one can wish for that people which 
has never seen face to face either law, order, justice, right, truth 
about itself or the rest of the world— which has known nothing 
outside the capricious will of its irresponsible masters — is that 
it should find in the approaching hour of need, not an organizer 
or a lawgiver, with the wisdom of a Lycurgus or a Solon for 
their service, but at least the force of energy and desperation in 
some as yet unknown Spartacus. 

A brand of hopeless moral and mental inferiority is set upon 
Eussian achievements; and the coming events of her internal 
changes, however appalling they may be in their magnitude, will 
be nothing more impressive than the convulsions of a colossal 
body. As her boasted military force that, corrupt in its origin, 
has ever struck no other than faltering blows, so her soul, kept 
benumbed by her temporal and spiritual master with the poison 
of tyranny and superstition, will find itself on awakening pos- 
sessed of no language, a monstrous full-grown child having first 
to learn the ways of living thought and articulate speech. It is 
safe to say that tyranny, , assuming a thousand protean shapes, 
will remain clinging to her struggles for a long time, before her 
blind multitudes succeed at last in trampling it out of existence. 

That would be the beginning. What is to come after? The 
conquest of freedom to call your soul your own is only the first 
step on the road to excellence. We in Europe, having gone a 
step or two further, have had the time to forget how little that 
freedom means. To Eussia it must seem everything. A prisoner 
shut up in a noisome dungeon concentrates all his hope and 



4g THE WORTH AMERICAN REVIEW. 

desire on the moment of stepping out beyond the gates. It ap- 
pears to him pregnant with an immense and final importance; 
whereas what is important is the spirit in which he will draw the 
first breath of freedom, the counsels he will hear, the hands he 
may find extended, the endless days of toil that must follow, 
wherein he will have to build his future with no other material 
but what he can find within himself. 

It would be vain for Eussia to hope for the support and coun- 
sel of collective wisdom. Since 1870 (as a distinguished states- 
man of the old tradition disconsolately exclaimed), " II n'y a plus 
d' Europe!" There is, indeed, no Europe. The idea of a Europe 
united in the solidarity of her dynasties, which for a moment 
seemed to dawn on the horizon of the Vienna Congress through 
the subsiding dust of Napoleonic alarums and excursions, has 
been extinguished by the larger glamour of less restraining ideals. 
Instead of the doctrine of solidarity, it was the doctrine of 
nationalities, much more favorable to spoliations, that came to 
the front; and, since its greatest triumphs at Sadowa and Sedan, 
there is no Europe. Meanwhile, till the time comes when there 
will be no frontiers, there are alliances so shamelessly based upon 
the exigencies of suspicion and mistrust that their cohesive force 
waxes and wanes with every year, almost with the event of every 
passing month. That is the atmosphere Russia will find when 
the last rampart of tyranny has been beaten down. But what 
hands, what voices will she find on coming out into the light of 
day? An ally she has yet who, more than any other of Russia's 
allies, has found that she has parted with lots of solid sub- 
stance in exchange for a shadow. It is true that the shadow 
was indeed the mightiest, the darkest that the modern world had 
ever known — and the most overbearing. But it is fading now, 
and the tone of truest anxiety as to what is to take its place will 
come no doubt from that and no other direction; and no doubt 
also it will have that note of generosity which, even in the mo- 
ments of greatest aberrations, is seldom wanting in the voice of 
the French people. 

Two neighbors Russia will find at her door. Austria — tradi- 
tionally unaggressive whenever her hand is not forced, ruled by 
a dynasty of uncertain future, weakened by its duality — can only 
speak to her in an uncertain bilingual phrase. Prussia, grown 
in something like sixty years from an almost pitiful dependent 



AUTOCRACY AND WAR. 49 

into a bullying friend and evil counsellor of Russia's masters, 
may indeed hasten to extend a strong hand to the weakness of 
her exhausted body ; but, if so, it will be only with the intention 
of tearing away the long-coveted part of her substance. 

Pan-Germanism is by no means a shape of mists, and Germany 
is anything but a Neant where thought and effort are like to lose 
themselves without sound or trace. It is a powerful and vora- 
cious organism, full of unscrupulous self-confidence, whose appe- 
tite for aggrandizement will only be limited by the power of 
helping itself to the severed members of its friends and neighbors. 
The era of wars, so eloquently denounced by the old republicans 
as the peculiar blood-guilt of dynastic ambitions, is by no means 
over yet. They will be fought out differently, with less fre- 
quency, with an increased bitterness and the savage tooth-and- 
claw obstinacy of a struggle for existence. They will make us 
regret the time of dynastic ambitions, with their human absurd- 
ity moderated by prudence and even by shame, by the fear of 
personal responsibility and the regard paid to certain forms of 
conventional decency. For, if the monarchs of Europe have been 
derided for addressing each other as "Brother" in autograph 
communications, that relationship was at least as effective as any 
form of brotherhood likely to be established between the rival 
nations of this continent, which, we are assured on all hands, 
is the heritage of democracy. In the ceremonial brotherhood of 
monarchs the reality of blood ties entered often, for what little 
it is worth, as a drag on unscrupulous desires of glory or greed. 
Besides, there was always the common danger of exasperated 
peoples and some respect for each other's divine right. No leader 
of a democracy, without other ancestry but the sudden shout of 
a multitude, and debarred by the very condition of power from 
even thinking of a direct heir, will have any interest in calling 
" brother " the leader of another democracy- — a chief as fatherless 
and heirless as himself. 

The war of 1870, brought about by the third Napoleon's 
generous invention of the principle of nationalities, was the first 
characterized by a special intensity of hate, by a new note in the 
tune of an old song for which we may thank the Teutonic 
thoroughness. Was it not that excellent bourgeoise, Princess Bis- 
marck (to keep only to great examples), who was so righteously 
anxious to see men, women and children — emphatically the chil- 
vol. clxxxi. — no. 584. 4 



50 TEE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW. 

dren, too — of the abominable French nation massacred off the 
face of the earth? This illustration of the new war-temper is 
artlessly revealed in the prattle of the amiable Busch, the Chan- 
cellor's pet " reptile " of the press. And this was only a war for 
an idea. Too much, however, should not be made of that good 
wife and mother's sentiments, any more than of the good Em- 
peror William's tears, shed so abundantly after every battle by 
letter, by telegram and otherwise, during the course of the same 
war, before a dumb and shamefaced continent. These were 
merely the expressions of the simplicity of a nation which has a 
tendency to run into the grotesque. There is worse to come. 

To-day, in the fierce grapple of two nations of different race, 
the short era of national wars seems about to close. No war will 
be waged for an idea. The noxious, idle aristocracies of yester- 
day fought without malice for an occupation, for the honor, for 
the fun, of the thing. The virtuous, industrious democratic 
states of to-morrow may yet be reduced to fighting over a crust 
of dry bread for their teeth, with all the hate, ferocity and fury 
that must attach to the vital importance of such an issue. The 
dreams of sanguine humanitarians, raised almost to ecstasy about 
the year fifty of the last century by the moving sight of the 
Crystal Palace— crammed full with that variegated rubbish 
which it seems to be the bizarre fate of humanity to purchase for 
the benefit of a few employers of labor — have vanished as quickly 
as they had arisen. The golden hopes of peace have in a single 
night turned to dead leaves in every drawer of every benevolent 
theorist's writing-table. A swift disenchantment overtook the 
incredible infatuation which could put its trust in the peaceful 
nature of industrial and commercial competition. 

Industrialism and Commercialism — wearing high - sound- 
ing names in many languages (" Welt-Politik " may serve for one 
instance), picking up coins behind the severe and disdainful 
figure of Science, whose giant strides have widened for us the 
horizon of the universe by some three inches — stand ready, al- 
most eager, to appeal to the sword as soon as the globe of the 
earth has shrunk beneath our growing numbers by another ell or 
so. And Democracy, which has elected to pin its faith to the 
supremacy of material interests, will have to fight their battles 
to the bitter end, on a mere pittance — unless, indeed, some states- 
man of exceptional ability and overwhelming prestige succeeds in 



AVTOOBAOY AND WAR. 51 

carrying through an international understanding for the de- 
limination of spheres of trade all over the earth, on the model of 
the territorial spheres of influence marked in Africa to keep the 
competitors, for the privilege of improving the nigger (as a 
buying machine), from flying at each other's throats. 

This seems the only expedient at hand for the maintenance 
of European peace, with its alliances based on mutual distrust, 
the preparedness for war for its ideal, and fear of wounds — 
luckily stronger so far than the pinch of hunger — for its only 
guarantee. The true peace of the world will he a place of refuge 
much less like a beleaguered fortress and more, let us hope, in the 
nature of an inviolable temple. It will be built on less perishable 
foundations than those of material interests. But the architectu- 
ral aspect of the universal city remains as yet inconceivable, the 
very ground of its erection has not been cleared of the jungle. 

Never before in history has the right of war been more fully 
admitted in the rounded periods of public speeches, in books, in 
public prints, in all the public works of peace, culminating in the 
establishment of The Hague Tribunal — that solemnly official 
recognition of the Earth as a House of Strife. To him whose 
indignation is qualified by a measure of hope and affection, the 
efforts of mankind to work its own salvation present a sight of 
disarming comicality. After clinging for ages to the steps of the 
throne, they are now, without modifying much their attitude, 
trying with touching ingenuity to steal one by one the thunder- 
bolts of their Jupiter. They have removed war from the list of 
heaven-sent visitations that could only be prayed against; they 
have erased its name from the supplication against the wrath of 
war, pestilence and famine, as it is in the litanies of the Roman 
church; they have dragged the scourge down from the skies and 
have made it into a calm and regulated institution. 

The best way to help the prospects of advanced thought is to 
provide in the fullest, frankest way for the conditions of the 
present day. War is one of its conditions ; it is its principal con- 
dition. It lies at the heart of every question agitating the fears 
and hopes of a humanity against itself. The succeeding ages 
have changed nothing except the watchwords of the armies. The 
intellectual stage of mankind being as yet in its infancy, and 
stages, like most individuals, having but a feeble and imperfect 
consciousness of the worth and force of the inner life, the need of 



52 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW. 

making their existence manifest to themselves is determined in 
the direction of physical activity. The idea of ceasing to grow 
in territory, in strength, in wealth, in influence — in anything but 
wisdom and self-knowledge — is odious to them as an omen of the 
end. Action, in which is to be found the illusion of a mastered 
destiny, can alone satisfy our uneasy vanity and lay to rest the 
haunting fear of the future — a sentiment concealed, indeed, but 
proving its existence by the force with which, when invoked, it 
stirs the passions of a nation. It will be long before we have 
learned that even in the greatest darkness there is nothing that 
we need fear. " Let us act, lest we perish," is the cry. And the 
only form of action open to a state can be of no other than 
aggressive nature. 

There are many kinds of aggressions, though the sanction of 
them all is one and the same — the magazine-rifle of the latest 
pattern. In preparation for or against such a form of action, the 
states of Europe are spending such moments of leisure as they can 
snatch from the labors of factory and counting-house. 

Never before has war received so much homage at the lips of 
men, never has it reigned with less undisputed sway in their 
minds. It has harnessed science to its gun-carriages; it has en- 
riched a few respectable manufacturers, scattered doles of food 
and raiment amongst a few thousand skilled workmen, devoured 
the first youth of whole generations and reaped its harvest of 
countless corpses. It has perverted the intelligence of men, 
women and children, and has made the speeches of Emperors, 
Kings, Presidents and Ministers monotonous with ardent pro- 
testations of fidelity to peace. Indeed, it has made peace alto- 
gether its own ; it has modelled peace on its own image — a martial, 
overbearing, war-lord sort of peace, with a mailed fist and turned- 
up mustaches, ringing with the din of grand manoeuvres, elo- 
quent with allusions to glorious feats of arms; it has made peace 
so magnificent as to be almost as expensive to keep up as itself. 
And it has taken even more upon itself. As if it were the 
prophet of a new faith, it has sent out more apostles of its own, 
who at one time went about, mostly in newspapers, preaching the 
gospel of the mystic sanctity of its sacrifices and the regenerating 
power of spilt blood to the poor in mind — whose name is legion. 

It has been observed that, in the course of earthly greatness, 
such a day of culminating triumph is often paid by a morrow of 



AUTOCRACY AND WAR. 53 

sudden extinction. Let us hope so. Yet the dawn of that day of 
retribution may be a long time breaking above a dark horizon. 
War is with us now; and, whether this one ends soon or late, war 
will be with us again. And it is the way of true wisdom for 
men and states to take account of things as they are. 

Civilization has done its little best by our sensibilities, for 
whose growth it is responsible. It has managed to remove the 
sight and sounds of battle-fields away from our doorsteps. But it 
cannot be expected to achieve the feat always and under every 
variety of circumstance. Some day it must fail. Then we shall 
have a wealth of appallingly unpleasant sensations brought home 
to us with painful intimacy, while the apostles of war's sanctity 
will crawl away swiftly into the holes where they belong, some- 
where in the yellow basements of newspaper offices. It is not 
absurd to suppose that, whatever war comes to us next, it will not 
be a distant war of revanche waged by Eussia either beyond the 
Amur or beyond the Oxus. 

The Japanese armies have laid that ghost for many a year. 
They have laid it forever, because the Eussia of the future will 
not, for the reasons explained above, be the Eussia of to-day. It 
will not have the same thoughts, resentments or aims. It is even 
a question whether it will preserve its gigantic frame unaltered 
and unbroken. All speculation loses itself in the magnitude of 
the events made possible by the defeat of an Autocracy whose 
only shadow of a title to existence was the invincible power of 
military conquest. That it will have a miserable end, in harmony 
with its base origin and inglorious life, does not seem open to 
doubt. The problem of the immediate future is posed not by the 
eventual manner but by the approaching fact of its disappear- 
ance. 

The Japanese armies, in laying the oppressive ghost, have not 
only accomplished what will be recognized historically as an im- 
portant mission in the world's struggle against all forms of evil ; 
they have also created a situation. They have created a situation 
in the East which they are competent to manage by themselves: 
and, in doing this, they have brought about a change in the con- 
dition of the West with which Europe is not well prepared to 
deal. The common ground of concord, good faith and justice is 
not sufficient to establish an action upon; since the conscience of 
but very few men amongst us, and that of no single Western 



54 TEE NORTE AMERICAN REVIEW. 

nation as yet, will brook the restraint of abstract ideas as against 
the fascination of a material advantage. And an eagle-eyed 
wisdom alone cannot take the lead of human action, which in its 
nature must forever remaifl short-sighted. The trouble of the 
civilized world is the want of a common conservative principle 
abstract enough to give the impulse, practical enough to form 
the rallying-point of international action tending towards the 
restraint of particular ambitions. Peace tribunals instituted for 
the greater glory of war will not replace it. Whether such a 
principle exists, who can say ? If it does not, then it ought to be 
invented. A sage, with a sense of humor and a heart of com- 
passion, should set about it without loss of time; and a solemn 
prophet full of words and fire ought to be given the task of pre- 
paring the minds. So far, there is no trace of such a principle 
anywhere in sight; even its plausible imitations (never very 
effective) have disappeared long ago before the doctrine of na- 
tional aspirations. "II n'y a plus d' Europe " ; there is only an 
armed and trading continent, the home of slowly maturing eco- 
nomical contests for life and death, and of loudly proclaimed 
world-wide ambitions. There are also other ambitions, not so 
loud, but deeply rooted in the envious acquisitive temperament 
of the last comer amongst the great Powers of the Continent, 
whose feet are not exactly in the ocean — not yet, whose head is 
very high up. In Pomerania, the breeding-place of such precious 
grenadiers, Prince Bismarck (whom it is a pleasure to quote) 
would not have given the bones of one for the settlement of the 
Eastern Question. But times have changed since. By way of 
keeping up some old, barbaric German rite, the faithful servant 
of the Hohenzollerns was buried alive to celebrate the accession 
of a new Emperor. 

Already, the voice of surmises has been heard hinting tenta- 
tively at a possible regrouping of European Powers. The alliance 
of the three Empires is supposed possible. And it may be pos- 
sible. The myth of Bussia's power is dying very hard — hard 
enough for that combination to take place — such is the fascina- 
tion that a discredited show of numbers will still exercise upon 
the imagination of a people trained to the worship of force. Ger- 
many may be willing to lend its support to a tottering Autocracy 
for the sake of an undisputed first place in such a combination — 
and of a preponderating voice in the settlement of every question 



AUTOCRACY AND WAR. 55 

in that Southeast of Europe which merges into Asia. No prin- 
ciple being involved in such an alliance of mere expediency, it 
would never be allowed to stand in the way of Germany's other 
ambitions. The fall of Autocracy would bring its restraint auto- 
matically to an end. Thus it may be believed that the support 
Russian despotism may get from its once humble friend and 
client will not be stamped by that thoroughness which is sup- 
posed to be the mark of German superiority. Russia weakened 
down to the second place, or Russia eclipsed altogether during the 
throes of her regeneration, will answer equally well the plans of 
German policy, which are many and various, and often in- 
credible, though the aim of them all is the same — aggrandizement 
of territory and influence with no regard to right and justice 
either in the East or in the West. That and no other is the true 
note of your Welt-politik which desires to live. 

The German eagle with a Prussian head looks all round the 
horizon, not so much for something to do that would count for 
good in the records of the earth, as simply for something good to 
get. He gazes upon the land and upon the sea with the same 
covetous steadiness, for he has become of late a maritime eagle 
and has learned to box the compass. He gazes North and South 
and East and West, and is inclined to look intemperately upon 
the waters of the Mediterranean when they are blue. The dis- 
appearance of the Russian phantom has given a foreboding of un- 
wonted freedom to the Welt-Politik. According to the national 
tendency, this assumption of Imperial impulses would run into 
the grotesque, were it not for the spikes of the pike-shanks peep- 
ing out grimly from behind. Germany's attitude proves that no 
peace for Earth can be found in the expansion of material inter- 
ests which she seems to have adopted exclusively as her only aim, 
ideal and watchword. For the use of those who gaze, half -unbe- 
lieving, at the passing away of the Russian phantom — part Ghoul, 
part Djinn, part Old Man of the Sea — and wait, half-doubting, 
for the birth of a nation's soul in this age which knows no 
miracles, the one famous saying of poor Gambetta, tribune of the 
people (who was simple and believed in the " immanent justice 
of tilings"), may be adapted in the shape of a warning that, so 
far as a future of liberty, concord and justice is concerned, " Le 
Prussianisme — voilA Vennemi!" 

Joseph Conrad.